Last Updated on November 13, 2022 by YGK News Staff

A coalition of community partners is receiving $1.34 million in federal funding to support a new initiative aimed to better the life of substance users in the Kingston community.

The funding announcement was made at 218 Concession Street, the new site of what is meant to be a healing space closely associated with the Integrated Care Hub.

The location will eventually be home to activities like arts therapy and Indigenous healing programs and is meant to allow for a positive space away from the day to day life at the Hub or shelters within the city.

Support Not Stigma’s funding comes from Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program, and brings together partners throughout the city like Lionhearts, Resolve Counselling, and employment services to encompass five major areas of work.

A release from Support Not Stigma says the funding will help to provide specialized training for those who work with people who use substances, and as previously mentioned will look to build community through creative projects at the new space and the monthly “social entrepreneurship market” hosted at the ICH.

Support Not Stigma will partner with Youth Diversion to launch a research program to better understand why women under 30 who use substances tend to not engage with shelter, health and social services.

True to its name, the initiative aims to provide a region-wide anti-stigma and education strategy in an effort to allow the broader community to understand the roots of substance abuse disorder.

Project Engagement Manager Candice Christmas said on Thursday that ultimately, the initiative looks to build a compassionate community through understanding.

“We’re really hoping that if we can teach people about the roots of addiction we can build more compassionate citizens,” Christmas said.

“And hopefully also to restore dignity of folks who really by no choice of their own actually in many cases find themselves at a point in the road and unfortunately find themselves in great need right now. If you talk to any of the people we’ve served, they all have a story.”

She added that while some people just do not have any interest in challenging their conceptions around substance use, she believes that somewhere around 60% of the population just doesn’t know enough and would be willing to listen and learn.

The $1.34 million provided by Health Canada will be stretched in a number of different directions, including equipment and covering salaries involved with Support Not Stigma, but the largest chunk will be utilized on a low barrier vocational training program.

Over $300,000 of the funding will go towards wages for this program, providing an opportunity for people with lived experience to gain work skills and get their feet underneath them in the job market.

While a number of patrons at the ICH are currently receiving benefits like ODSP, Christmas says this vocational program has been designed carefully in order to avoid doing any harm to those who access it.

Patrons will receive paid training that doesn’t impact any government benefits, and then will move into an internship position working up to 20 hours a week for a 3 month term.

Christmas says this avoids patrons having to deal with the bureaucracy of accessing unemployment and disability benefits again if the program doesn’t work out for them, but will hopefully send them on the path to comfortably reentering the working world.

“Theoretically we said that three months will be hopefully enough time for them to demonstrate stability and be able to continue in terms of like ramping up their responsibilities,” Christmas said.

“At that point they either become employees of Lionhearts or employees in the community and then they will be subject to taxes and things like that.”

While some of the ideas involved in this wide spanning plan are modelled after other Canadian initiatives, particularly work programs in British Columbia and wraparound care exhibited at Alpha House in Calgary, most of the ideas for providing care came from the ICH’s needs assessment.

“By and large I think a lot of it really came from the needs assessment,” Christmas said.

“From the people actually that we’re going to be helping.”

The program will be led by a partnership between the Care Hub and Trellis HIV and Community Care.

Ted Robinson, Chair of the Board of Directors at Trellis, said while this work does receive a lot of support from different funding streams for which community partners are grateful, the need continues to be great and more continues to be needed.

“Let us always be mindful of telling everyone who will listen that we’re doing good and vital work,” Robinson said.

“And while we are most certainly grateful for the support we receive to do that work, we need more. We need more money, we need more volunteers, we need more understanding, we need more empathy, we need more commitment…”